Subject: O Jornal: Report: How East Timor Fell

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O Jornal

Report: How East Timor Fell By: Lurdes C. da Silva


The United States and Portugal are among the nations that must be held accountable for and pay reparations for their roles in enabling Indonesia's invasion of East Timor in 1975, which resulted in a 20-year-plus forced annexation of the territory and in the deaths of an estimated 180,000 East Timorese caused by barbaric acts or enforced starvation, according to a report by an East Timor commission.


The United States and Portugal are among the nations that must be held accountable for and pay reparations for their roles in enabling Indonesia's invasion of East Timor in 1975, which resulted in a 20-year-plus forced annexation of the territory and in the deaths of an estimated 180,000 East Timorese caused by barbaric acts or enforced starvation, according to a report by an East Timor commission.

Entitled "Chega!" ("Enough" in Portuguese), the report claims the United States was aware of Indonesian plans but turned a "blind eye" to the invasion and to the fact that U.S.-supplied weaponry would be used for that purpose "in the light of its assessment of the importance of good relations with Indonesia." It further states that U.S.-supplied aircraft played a critical role in Indonesia's capacity to intensify massive campaigns and military operations to destroy the resistance.

"These were the campaigns which resulted in severe suffering and hardship to tens of thousands of civilians sheltering in the interior at the time," the report said.

The report also maintains that Portugal did not take sufficient steps to protect its former colony against an imminent invasion.

"Although it eventually sought assistance from the international community, Portugal could have done so earlier. To this extent the Commission finds that Portugal fell short of meeting its obligations as the administering power, including its obligation to protect the people of Timor-Leste from harm. Portugal, although committed in theory to the right of the East Timorese people to self-determination, took insufficient steps to assist in the realization of this right during the period of Indonesian occupation."

In the case of the United States, the commission further maintains that Indonesian campaigns forced the mass surrender of tens of thousands of civilians, who were then held in highly restrictive conditions of resettlement camps, where thousands of civilians died from starvation and illness.

"During the famine of this time U.S. officials refused to admit that the primary reason that East Timorese were dying in their thousands was the security policies being pursued by the Indonesian military. Instead they maintained that the deaths were due to drought, an argument which the Commission finds to have been without merit," the report said.

U.S. support to Indonesia was crucial to the continued occupation, maintains the commission.

"This was so not only because of weapons and equipment purchased from the United States played a significant role in Indonesian military operations in Timor, but also because it never used its unique position of power and influence to counsel its Indonesian ally against embarking on an illegal course of action," the report said.

"The actions of the Government of the United States of America in supporting Indonesia's invasion of Timor-Leste was in violation of its duties, under the general principles of international law, to support and refrain from undermining the legitimate right of the East Timorese people to self-determination and to take positive action to facilitate the realization of that right," according to the report.

U.S. Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), a fierce advocate for the East Timor cause in the 1990s, is not taken aback by the independent commission's claims.

"People say you're not supposed to say 'I told you so,' but it's exactly what some of us were arguing to the Clinton Administration in the 1990s," he said. "A group of us worked very hard and were part of the effort that got the American Government to drop this and to tell Indonesia that this had to stop."

Frank believes it would be useful to pay reparations, but those should come from Indonesia.

"The U.S.... It is hard to give reparations when the responsibility is indirect or not full," he said. "But it is something that ought to be taken into account as we increase aid to East Timor. I will be arguing this is another reason for us to increase our aid to East Timor. East Timor has a small population, so you can increase the aid significantly per capita without busting the budget."

The "Responsibility" chapter also mentions the supporting roles of Australia, the United Nations, the United Kingdom and France in the occupation. The report even criticizes the actions of resistance movements Fretilin and Falintil in the early years after the forced annexation.

"Representatives of Fretilin responded by committing serious human rights violations. The commission finds that (...) Fretilin/Falintil condemned victims were subjected to severe punishments, including indefinite periods of detention in deplorable conditions and execution, without any form of due process which in any way met international standards for procedural fairness."

In fact, of the 5,108 illegal killings reported to the commission, 67.6 percent were committed by Indonesians, while 25.4 percent were committed by the Fretilin/Falintil.

East Timor was finally granted independence from Indonesia in May 2002.

Prepared by the East Timor's Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR), the report contains more than 2,000 pages and describes numerous human rights violations by Indonesian forces, including torture, rape and sexual enslavement. Although it has not been made public, copies were distributed by the National Security Archive, a research institute on international affairs based in Washington.

The National Security Archive has said it provided more than 1,000 formerly secret U.S. documents to the CAVR detailing U.S. support for the invasion and occupation of East Timor across five U.S. administrations.

Among these documents was a National Security Council memorandum - obtained from the Gerald R. Ford Library - about Indonesian use of MAP equipment against Timor dated Dec. 12, 1975, which states:

"We have followed up this possibility at the Defense working level and have determined the following: the ex-USS Claud Jones class destroyer escort KRI Martadinata (formerly the USS Charles Berry DE 1035) has been involved in coastal shelling since Nov. 22. (...) Two other ex-U.S. ships, the KRI Monginsidi (formerly USS Claud Jones DE 1033) and the KRI Ngurahrai (formely USS McMorris De 1036) have participated in coastal patrols but no shelling. (...) Transportation throughout the operations has been provided by ex-US 511 class LSTs. (...) Five C-47 transport aircraft that were MAP supported have been identified in support operations. Two of these, reconfigured with wing-mounted .50 cal machineguns, were involved in the attack against Dili. One was used in the attack against Baucau."

The memo goes on to mention other plane models, helicopters and how both the 17th and 18th Airborne Brigades were totally U.S. MAP supported and jump masters were U.S. trained.

The National Security Archives said it released some of the U.S. documents in the hopes of encouraging the speediest possible release and widest possible dissemination of the CAVR's findings.

"We expect the final report of the CAVR to demonstrate, as these documents do, that Indonesia's invasion and occupation of East Timor and the resulting crimes against humanity occurred in an international context in which the support of powerful nations, especially the United States, was indispensable," said Brad Simpson, assistant professor of history at University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Director of the National Security Archive's Indonesia and East Timor Documentation Project. "These documents also point to the need for genuine international accountability for East Timor's suffering, especially as Indonesia embarks on its own truth commission process."

The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) has also called for the quick release of the full report. The group maintains that a wide-ranging discussion of its findings and recommendations is necessary not only for East Timor, but for the United States, Indonesia and other countries.

"Our hope is that the report will serve to educate people in the U.S. about our government's role in East Timor's tragic history and that they will respond by supporting the East Timorese people's demands for justice through an international tribunal," said John M. Miller, the group's national coordinator. "Indonesia's invasion and occupation of East Timor received bi-partisan support from the U.S. - Presidents Gerald Ford through Bill Clinton. This political and military support only ended in 1999 in response to changes in the region and grassroots and congressional pressure in the U.S. East Timor's truth commission has done an important service by describing the U.S. role, including that the so-called "human rights" presidency of Jimmy Carter provided key weapons, which allowed Indonesia to consolidate its hold on East Timor in the late 1970s."


New York activist João Crisóstomo, who in the 1990s organized many vigils, published articles in several countries and attempted to raise international awareness for the East Timorese plight, said the "truth must be sought and divulged. The alleged reasons for not doing so are usually motives that have something behind them and that benefit (or disfavor) someone."

In his opinion, everything should be made public, until there is nothing else to be revealed.

"The good will of those responsible will be demonstrated by them having the courage to accept their guilt for what they have done and to commit themselves to participate in reforms and efforts to prevent such situations from happening again," said Crisóstomo.

Despite pressure from groups all over the world, East Timorese officials have not disclosed if and when the report will be made public. East Timorese Foreign Minister José Ramos Horta said last week the report was not intended to point fingers at Indonesia, but to "look to the past to understand it so this sort of violence will not occur again."

For Crisóstomo, the decision to "control the disclosure of the report and to maintain good relations with Indonesia and other countries above all is a manifestation of weakness towards people or entities who prefer to appease instead of taking the courageous attitude needed."

A couple weeks ago, East Timor's President Xanana Gusmão provided U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan with a copy of the report. Last November, he also handed it over to the National Parliament in East Timor.

The independent commission has asked the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France - as well as the Indonesian and Portuguese governments and governments that sold weapons to Indonesia and supported Indonesia's policy to pay reparations to the victims. It also suggested that contracts for international judges who served on special panels for serious crimes be renewed and that resources be allocated to investigate and try all crimes committed between the occupation from 1975 to 1999.

However, Gusmão has rejected both recommendations, saying East Timor and Indonesia "are both nascent democracies struggling to put behind us years of conflict, and our fates are in many ways enjoined."

"I have had to ask myself if it is in our national interest, which must include social harmony, to adopt a process that I am told by some friends will bring justice, and have this process go on for years, and possibly set back our democratic consolidation, that is being undertaken in East Timor and Indonesia respectively. The answer that I came to, after wide consultation with the people, was that it is not," he said.

He also said the recommendation to bring to court every crime committed since 1975 could easily lead to "political anarchy and social chaos."

Gusmão said East Timor would follow the "restorative justice model" established by Archbishop Desmond Tutu who headed South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which granted amnesty for the truth, with the goal of healing deep divisions in society.

He quoted Tutu as saying: "Justice as retribution often ignores the victim and the system is usually impersonal and cold. Restorative justice is hopeful."

Cong. Frank believes that although it is reasonable to press Indonesians for not treating East Timor seriously, he disagrees with those who want to put pressure on Xanana.

"I am ready to go along with whatever the Government of East Timor decides," he said. "They have a difficult situation in East Timor. There are some Americans who want to press them into a bigger fight against Indonesia and I think it is reasonable for Xanana and Ramos Horta to think about what happens going forward, how they build their democracy and their country. I will be guided by what they think it is appropriate."

The international community pressured Jakarta in 2002 to establish a special tribunal to prosecute Indonesians allegedly responsible for the violence. But the trials have been widely criticized as a sham, with all 17 police and military commanders indicted receiving acquittals.

Indonesia and East Timor set up a joint truth and reconciliation commission in August 2005 and Gusmão said he expects it to conclude its work this year, with the possibility of an extension. He also chided the international community for not supporting this initiative.

"The commitment that we should all undertake is not to allow, under any circumstances, a recurrence of political violence in our beloved homeland," Gusmão said.

He said East Timor's relations with its two closest neighbors - Indonesia and Australia - "continue on a sound basis."

However, last week the online edition of the Financial Times said the Jakarta government had cancelled Gusmão's visit on Friday to present his counterpart a copy of the report.     

Officials in Dili and Jakarta confirmed that Indonesia anger over the controversial CAVR report was the reason for the cancellation of the meeting between the Timorese leader and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, according to the Portuguese news agency LUSA. Indonesia denies committing wide-spread occupation abuses.

So far, East Timor and Indonesia have reached agreement on 99 percent of the border and the remaining one percent should be resolved "in the next few weeks," Gusmão said.

East Timor and Australia signed an agreement on Jan. 12 that provides for a 50-50 share of oil and gas resources in the Greater Sun Rise area, "one of the richest in the entire Asia-Pacific region, and a 50-year moratorium on our maritime boundaries, without prejudice of our sovereign claims," he said.

With some reports from Associated Press and LUSA


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